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Coming to Terms With Small Spaces


When moving from a three-bedroom apartment to a studio apartment last year, I realized that I had to start thinking small. The new place was already furnished, so it was an extra-tight squeeze.

As I discovered, however, small spaces aren't completely hopeless. In fact, a lack of space often helps one come up with creative solutions. After reading some design books on small spaces, I found that from a designer's standpoint, a small space should never be considered a lost cause. Small space design is about making a lot of a little, says Norman Smith, author of "Small Space Living Design" (Rockport, 125 pp., $29.99).

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I started to work with this concept and borrowed ideas from this book as well as "Making the Most of Small Spaces," by Anoop Parikh (Rizzoli, 80 pp., $19.95) Both offer helpful tips and show inviting colorful photographs of small kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms. The second book was particularly useful for its cost-efficient ideas.

For example, "Making the Most of Small Spaces" is helpful for people who want to better organize their cluttered rooms at a low cost. It offers lighting tips, shares tricks about using paint color and mirror placement, and advises on how to take a minimalist approach with furniture.

When deciding what paint to use, consider the type of room. If it is gray and dingy, use a warm color such as a soft yellow or lime green. If it's a sunny room, a color scheme based on blue and green can make it look clean and fresh.

And don't forget the old standby for "enlarging" space: mirrors. Built-in closet doors can sometimes be removed and replaced with sliding mirrored panels. But avoid sitting people directly in front of mirrors, advises author Parikh. Also, use them sparingly.

Storage is equally important. Built-in shelving can serve many functions, including maximizing space, especially in awkward corners and in the space above doors and windows.

And both design books remind readers not to forget about the empty space above their heads. But you may want to avoid space above the stove!

Now I'm off to a one-bedroom apartment, and this time I have a different problem - not enough stuff. But I'll remind myself that I don't need to fill up every corner. Besides, minimalism is in.

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* Don't allow a bed to dominate the room. Use a foldaway, such as a sofa bed or futon.

* A few items of clothing, such as hats and shawls, can be a decorative display on the wall. A valet stand will help to keep clothes off the floor, as will a row of hooks hung behind a door.

* Trunks and blanket chests can double as storage spaces and low tables.

* Use a folding screen to create an instant workspace or dressing room. It can also be used to conceal clutter. Making your own screen is easy: buy sheets of medium-density fiberboard from hardware stores; good suppliers will cut these to size. Join the panels with screen hinges, then decorate with paint, paper, or fabric.

* Do not automatically exclude large items of furniture from a tiny space. An oversized, attractive piece can be an excellent focal point in a small, enclosed room.

- From 'Making the Most of Small Spaces,' by Anoop Parikh (Rizzoli)

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